Give the Broncos an inch, and they might have had an undefeated season.
The Poinsettia Bowl was thisclose to being a completely different game and, therefore, to giving us a very different holiday mood. It has been discussed in the papers and on the boob tubes about missed opportunities and chances, but can you ever have too many people voicing their regret following a loss? We think not.
We should point out that TCU could be making the same arguments the day after. If Jeremy Kerley doesn't throw an interception, if Andy Dalton doesn't complete screen passes to defensive linemen, if any number of different things were to happen, TCU could have had a lot more points. We get that. But as Bronco fans, we need our moment to look back and wonder what could have been. Please let us bemoan in peace.
One-point games are anyone's game, and had the following 10 plays happened differently, it could have been the Broncos' game.
1. Kyle Brotzman's 38-yard missed field goal
Kickers. Brotzman's sophomore year has clearly been worse than his freshman one when it comes to field goals. He would not have missed that kick last year. We were not terribly surprised when he missed it this year. Still, 38-yard field goals have to be gimmes at this level, especially in games like this. The Broncos marched the ball down to the TCU 20-yard line, and to not come away with points is devastating. Plus, it would have made it a two-score game. Plus, TCU's go-ahead touchdown would have put the Horned Frogs up by a single point and not by four. Plus, when BSU kicked its final FG late in the fourth, the Broncos would have had the lead and not still trailed. Plus, everything. It was a huge miss.
2. Aaron Brown's 16-yard second quarter TD run
This may have been the biggest play of the game. Brown's touchdown was a mighty momentum shift to TCU and took a 13-point BSU lead and cut it in more than half. The Horned Frogs had barely sniffed the red zone all game long until a soft defense let TCU get in position for Brown to make a spectacular run. Still, the Broncos missed several tackles along the way. If they had brought Brown down with any one of them, TCU probably would not have had time left to do anything other than kick a field goal.
Speaking of time, you could argue that this play was set up by the Broncos' prior drive and an unfortunate first down play en route to a three-and-out. Kellen Moore ran what looked to be a read option, kept the ball, found himself in trouble, and dumped an incompletion to Julian Hawkins (catchable, but an incompletion). That stopped the clock and let TCU hold on to one of its two remaining timeouts. If you run the ball on three straight plays, the Broncos could have used up at least 25 more seconds of the game clock. Brown's touchdown came with 24 seconds left in the half.
3. Horse collar penalty on Vinny Perretta not called
After Vinny's 65-yard catch and run, he was dragged down from behind by the back of his shoulder pads by a TCU defender. Textbook horse collar tackle, and the refs completely missed it. Perretta's pass completion took the ball down to the TCU 32-yard line. If you add on a 15-yard personal foul penalty, the Broncos are staring at first and 10 from the TCU 17. Boise State got 12 more yards on its drive following Perretta's catch, so you have to assume they could have moved the ball a little closer. Rather than Kyle Brotzman choking on a 38-yard field goal, it could have been a much easier 25-30 yard kick.
4. John Gott's holding penalty
On Boise State's penultimate drive that netted a field goal, Ian Johnson busted out for what appeard to be a huge gain down to the TCU one-yard line. But hold the phone. John Gott was called for holding, and the play was negated. Here's the thing about the holding penalty: it was a soft call. There had been greater maulings going on all game than Gott's iffy grab-and-turn. What's more is that if his hands had been an inch more inside and if he could have moved his feet just a step farther to his right, he would have been fine.
5. Vinny Perretta stepping out of bounds
Perretta caught a sweet little flare pass and took off down the sideline for what could have been a touchdown. Confound those EEE shoes! Perretta's wide foot just nicked the sideline as he took off for the end zone. It wasn't a whole foot out of bounds. It wasn't a half foot. It was a single toe or a single cleat. The refs made a good call, but to think what could have been were it not for an inch is just maddening.
6. Kellen Moore's interception
A lot of people have said that Moore pulled a Zabransky, but we don't see it that way. Zabransky would have hit a defender he didn't see and that defender would have run back the pick for a touchdown. Moore's throw was more a matter of miscommunication and unfortunate circumstance. Here's his take:
Moore said he was expecting Hawkins to run his route a little deeper, leading to the inaccurate throw.
Moore's pass was right on the money if Hawkins was where he was supposed to be. What's more is that Hawkins adjusted poorly to the ball, letting TCU's Stephen Hodge come up with the pick. We think that if Pettis or Childs had been the intended target that the play might have worked out differently.
7. Brandyn Thompson's dropped INT
Thompson had a chance to give the Broncos excellent field position for their final drive, but he dropped a pass intended for a fallen TCU receiver. Had Thompson hung on to the pick, Boise State would have started the drive near midfield and needed only 20 or 30 yards (with one timeout and two minutes left) to get in field goal range. At that position, it is likely that TCU would not have come with a blitz on first down, and it would have changed strategies for both sides. We would have gladly traded one of Thompson' three Hawaii interceptions for this one.
8. Jeremy Childs drawing pass interference
On that tragic drive for the Broncos' final points, they were so tantalizingly close to the end zone it was crazy. No more so than on Childs near-TD. He had beaten a TCU defender so badly that all the TCU guy could do was reach out and grab Childs. The pass interference penalty gave the Broncos a first down they could not capitalize on, but it is the potential of the play that will haunt us. Had the TCU player whiffed on the grab, Childs would have scored. If the grab would have been a few shirt strands less, Childs could have broken free for the TD. In virtually any other situation here, Childs would have put the Broncos ahead with a touchdown.
9. Byron Hout's interception return
As Hout rumbled downfield after picking off Andy Dalton, we leaped with joy, but mostly with hope that he would reach the end zone and spare the BSU offense the opportunity to not get a TD. Instead of being a game-changing play, it was merely a great play by a future Bronco star. Hout needed to reach the end zone on his interception, and we could feel it in one of our deeply suppressed premonitions. If Hout scores a touchdown there, it is 17-0 Broncos, and TCU is down three scores. Three scores, it should be pointed out, are all they got all game long. Hout couldn't have done any better on his return than he did, so we don't fault him for anything. It just kills us how close he was to paydirt, and what a difference it could have made.